US media must lose its bias to understand Donald Trump


Neutrality may well be the most important word in a journalist’s vocabulary now. Democracies are in ferment in major countries. And globalization of information means biases can quickly travel across geographies. So, some pre-held, pre-fixed notions in sections of the Indian media on, say, Narendra Modi influence many Western media commentary on the Indian prime minister. Similarly, some of the US ‘mainstream’ media’s pre-held, prefixed notions of Donald Trump are finding strong echoes in Indian media writings on him. But getting infected by such informational bias is not smart journalism. The best antidote is a strongly held position of neutrality. How does this work? Simple. Look at every issue as it is, the ‘why’, the ‘how’, the ‘when’ and the ‘what’, and don’t let ‘who’ be the predominant factor in analysis. As they say in football, good players play the ball, not the man. On a leader like Trump, it’s tempting and easy to play the man, because the US media can’t get enough of what it thinks are his dark personal traits. But it is precisely because Trump appears to be a break from the usual mould of leaders, it is important to play the ball. We won’t understand what Trump is doing if we start every analysis with a deep bias. An important part of this is avoiding sweeping adjectives. Many ‘liberal’ Western analysts of Modi throw in the term ‘Hindu nationalist’, without bothering to explain it or to understand whether as prime minister, Modi has sought to nuance or change his image. The casual use of the term cheapens the quality of analysis.

Calling Trump a narcissist or a liar or a groper similarly cheapens any analysis of the US president’s policies. Once neutrality is strictly observed, the quality of analysis will also improve in other ways. For example, on Trump’s order temporarily banning US travel by citizens from seven countries, a neutral perspective for an Indian commentator would lead to questions such as these: (a) Is Trump the very first American president to restrict travel to US in any form? No. (b) Is India all milk and honey about everyone coming into this country? No. (c) Would it have served India’s purpose had Trump temporarily banned US visits by Pakistani passport holders? Yes. Pakistan would have received a much-needed jolt from US. The point is not whether Trump is entirely correct. That’s a matter of debate. The point is not to get caught up in media frenzy. Even on possible Trump-induced restrictions on H1B visas, instead of hand-wringing, the media here should ask whether this is the opportunity for India to start building its own Silicon Valley, with easy access to American jobs gone. Borrowing Donald Trump’s seemingly favorite words, if the media stays neutral, it can be “tremendous”. If the media stays hopelessly biased, it can be a “disaster”.

Courtesy: Economic Times